By Rory Baldwin
OF THE Six Nations performances we have seen so far from Scotland, the one which ended in a 32-14 loss to Ireland was probably the most frustrating. Andy Robinson must have horrible nightmares that he is sticking his fingers in one hole of a giant blue dyke, only for water to spurt out of a hitherto undiscovered leak. Or worryingly, one that he thought he had already plugged.
The element of youth that had been so refreshing in parts against Wales and for most of the France game was cruelly exposed against Ireland at the Aviva on Saturday. The men in green were more ruthlessly willing to test Scotland’s new players. Stuart Hogg missed a few high balls and was never allowed into the game in attack by a group of Irish players much more familiar with him from the RaboDirect PRO12 than the French had been.
It seems harsh to speak ill of the concussed, but Lee Jones also missed a couple of crucial tackles that allowed the Irish to cross the line.
The naïvity of Hogg and Jones also contrived to hand Ireland a scoring opportunity in the dying seconds of the first half, after Scotland had finally woken up and gained the momentum with a try from Richie Gray. Rather than taking the mark, plugging the ball deep into the stands and seeing out the half, Jones and Hogg tried to run it from a 22 instantly flooded with Irish defenders. Greig Laidlaw’s resulting hurried clearance was much shorter and Scotland went into half time down another try; momentum surrendered.
However the main worry was the decision making at the top. Ross Ford is not an inexperienced player, with more than 50 caps and a Lions Test win under his belt, but he is an inexperienced captain. On Saturday in the first half, Scotland had Ireland under the hammer in the lineout and had driven one maul to within an inch of the line before Ireland surrendered the penalty. Instead of repeating it and almost certainly (nothing is truly certain with Scotland) coming away with some combination of a penalty, a try or a yellow card, Ford panicked and went for the penalty kick.
In the second half the Irish were still coughing up kickable penalties. Yet this time Scotland opted to chase tries rather than kick the points, even with half an hour or more remaining. At 22-14 down, three kicked penalties would have given them the lead.
As it was, Scotland did not score again. Graeme Morrison manfully held up Tommy Bowe over the line to keep Scotland technically in the game and prevent him from scoring in all his games so far, but it was only staving off the inevitable.
Scotland can take positives once again from the performances of the galloping Gray and David Denton; Gray’s try in particular served possibly to elevate hopes a little higher than the rest of the performance would justify in the end.
Ireland never fully fired but when they found themselves in Scotland’s 22, they almost always came away with points. They give away silly penalties and throw rubbish passes too, but it is this sort of iron-willed determination that Robinson must wish he could somehow steal in the night from the pillows of Rob Kearney, Johnny Sexton or Stephen Ferris.
If he’s looking for Ferris, he may well be on the wrong side of the pillow with his hands all over the feathers. But he’ll be dreaming of victory, while Scotland are once again stuck in a nightmare of our own making involving spoons, wood and crushing frustration.